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Elliott Carter: Three Poems Of Robert Frost/Mirror In Which To Dwell/Syringa/In Sleep, In Thunder
Speculum Musicae Ensemble
Elliott Carter: Three Poems Of Robert Frost/Mirror In Which To Dwell/Syringa/In Sleep, In Thunder
Genres: Jazz, Pop, Classical
 
  •  Track Listings (16) - Disc #1

Between 1975 and 1981, Elliot Carter produced his remarkable vocal trilogy: A Mirror on Which to Dwell, Syringa, and In Sleep, in Thunder. Bridge's CD marks the first integral recording of the three works, and also includ...  more »

      
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Between 1975 and 1981, Elliot Carter produced his remarkable vocal trilogy: A Mirror on Which to Dwell, Syringa, and In Sleep, in Thunder. Bridge's CD marks the first integral recording of the three works, and also includes the premiere recording of Carter's 1980 orchestration, Three Poems of Robert Frost. These recordings were made under the composer's supervision, and feature Speculum Musicae, with whom Carter has worked closely during the past twenty years.
 

CD Reviews

One of the most important collections of modern vocal music.
Karl Henzy | 07/04/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I like Andrew Bartlett's descriptions of "In Sleep, In Thunder" and "Mirror on Which to Dwell." As with every other musical form Carter has chosen to work in, the vocal works are among the most important in their genre for the second half-century. Bartlett doesn't talk much about "Syringa," though. In fact, it's the most original and striking work of the disc. Imagine a sort of film with a narrator calmly telling us the story of Orpheus in sort of hip modern jargon, but superimposed on the real thing--Orpheus passionately declaiming or agonizingly wailing, and all the while a little chamber orchestra is making wickedly flickering music. Everything happens simultaneously, as if we were in two or three worlds, eons apart, at the same time. This is Carter's chamber opera (in the sense that Kurtag's great "Samuel Becket: What is the Word" can be thought of as an opera), and until his new opera (composed last year at the age of 89)is released on disc, it's all we've got for a Carter opera."
Recitativo Rediscovered
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 10/24/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Elliot Carter wrote rather little vocal music; from 1947 to 1975, he wrote none. Then, within a few years he wrote three of the bold settings of poetry recorded on this CD. I won't pretend that this is easy music to assimilate. Like all of Carter's explorations of the extremes of tonality and rhythms, these poem-settings won't make immediate sense to listeners expecting something in the manner of 'songs.' I find that approaching them from the repertoire of "accompanied recitativo", which was the great invention of the 16th & 17th Century composers who sought to make their music express the emotional content of poetry, speeds up the recognition of Carter's particular musical intentions. Also, the piece Syringa - a setting of a poem by John Ashbery - can be heard as a "motet" in the format of the late 14th C ars subtilior, with simultaneous declamation in two languages, English and classical Greek.

Carter's choices of poets to set to music reveals a great deal about him, about his emotive affect and about his world-view. First, he had excellent taste in poetry; over his career, he has chosen poems by Hart Crane, Robert Frost, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, and John Ashbery, five of the most powerful and artful poets of the 20th Century. If you're familiar with their work, you'll recognize how much they share. Lowell, Bishop, and Ashbery were lifelong 'comrades' in generating a new poetic canon of confession and introspection. Carter's music, seen as part of his poets' world view, is equally introspective.

The three short settings of poems by Robert Frost were written in 1942, and are scarcely to be compared with the later, larger works. They're interesting, however, in their similarity to the miniature songs of Charles Ives. I hadn't really heeded Carter's inheritance from Ives before.

The six poems by Bishop comprise a cohesive oratorio - A Mirror on Which to Dwell - for soprano voice in recitativo, accompanied by an instrumental ensemble of complex timbres: flutes of three sizes, clarinet, bass clarinet, oboe, English horn, violin, viola, cello, double bass, piano, and percussion. This is my favorite of the works on the CD, and to my ears at least, the easiest to ingest as pure expressionism. The range of pitches is almost shockingly wide, both from the singer and from the instrumental ensemble. Like Bishop's poems, and like much of Carter's other music, the endings of each recitation are curiously abrupt and inverse. On first listening, just let yourself enjoy the colors; listen for the structures another time.

Syringa - the Ashbery poem - is a bi-lingual recitation, nineteen minutes long, of formidable acoustic complexity. Ashbery's poetry after the mid-1960s became almost dementedly personal and enigmatic, the sort of stuff that a few readers adored and many despaired of appreciating, wildly eclectic in idiom and in allusion. I struggle with his poetry myself, and likewise I'm still struggling to work through Carter's setting of it. The overall musical concept of Syringa is potent, but much of the note-by-note rhetoric still seems arbitrary to me.

The six short Lowell poems assembled as "In Sleep, In Thunder" are dedicated to Lowell as a memorial. Carter and Lowell were apparently good friends. The choice of these six poems from all of Lowell's work may reflect some personal attachments; they are not among Lowell's most outstanding works. The settings are almost pure 'recitativo' in the Baroque sense. Accompanied by an even larger instrumental ensemble than the Bishop poems, they are sung with extreme clarity of diction by tenor Jon Garrison. You won't need to follow the texts in the booklet to understand Garrison, whose voice is not glorious but whose sense of pitch and timing is superb.

Elliot Carter is now 100 years old. Even among composers, who seem to live longer than mere mortals, he has forged a musical lifetime of huge productivity. His influence has been and still is immense. Hearing his "style" aligned with the explicit rhetoric of words might be, for some listeners, a good chance to grasp what he's all about."